Web trade bill snub

The e-commerce bill in last week’s Queen’s Speech has received a muted welcome from the software industry and Big Five consultants.

The eagerly awaited bill is designed to give legal recognition to secure electronic signatures and encourage a system of voluntary licensing for companies providing encryption services. It will also determine what liability ‘trusted third parties’- such as banks or even Big Five firms – would bear for any resulting losses.

The government hoped that the raft of measures would encourage Internet commerce by promoting a framework for secure transactions without heavy-handed regulation.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development maintained that the current tax system should be able to cope with e-commerce transactions globally, without the government having to impose so-called byte taxes – which are fiercely opposed by the software industry.

Paul Baker, head of Ernst & Young’s electronic consulting division, said the combined measures laid the minimum requirements for e-commerce to mature. ‘At the end of the day, trusted third parties are a fundamental part of e-commerce. Without it, you won’t know if the person you’re dealing is who they say they are,’ he said.

Baker added that the government might have to establish a formal accreditation scheme for trusted third parties, such as banks and the Big Five, to maintain industry standards. ‘You might have many varying schemes without a government framework so the government could license groups to accredit third parties.’

A source in the Internet commerce sector questioned whether the government had the commitment to meet the e-commerce transaction targets set for central government departments, let alone the requirements of industry.

‘The government has set itself a target of handling 90% of routine government transactions through e-commerce by 2001. I don’t think there’s enough of a leadership role from the Treasury and cabinet office to insist government agencies use e-commerce.’

He added: ‘The government is making the right noises about Internet commerce but it is too early to really tell yet.’

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